Clean-up teams at Fukushima struggled to control the melting fuel rods.
What’s the News: After the disastrous March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the world waited, mostly in vain, for details about the events that led to meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Since then, scientists across the Pacific in California have been watching the dials of instruments that detect radioactive molecules, to see what might come across on the winds.
This week, scientists at Scripps published their readings of radioactive sulfur collected in the atmosphere in San Diego after the meltdown. These allowed them to extrapolate backwards to learn roughly how many neutrons were shed by the melting cores as workers desperately doused them in sea water, helping scientists understand the damage undergone by the cores and demonstrating the kind of remote science that may be required to help understand the events that led to meltdown.
Atoms sometimes release alpha particles during radioactive decay.
What’s the News: An international team of researchers has completed the most precise measurement of the Earth’s radioactivity to date. By analyzing subatomic particles streaming out of the interior of the planet, the geologists and physicists discovered that the radioactive decay of several elements generates roughly half of the Earth’s total heat output. Their results were published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The sun is breaking the known rules of physics—so said headlines that made the rounds of the Web this week.
That claim from a release out about a new study by researchers Jere Jenkins and Ephraim Fischbach of Purdue, and Peter Sturrock of Stanford. The work suggests that the rates of radioactive decay in isotopes—thought to be a constant, and used to date archaeological objects—could vary oh-so-slightly, and interaction with neutrinos from the sun could be the cause. Neutrinos are those neutral particles that pass through matter and rarely interact with it; trillions of neutrinos are thought to pass through your body every second.
In the release itself, the researchers say that it’s a wild idea: “‘It doesn’t make sense according to conventional ideas,’ Fischbach said. Jenkins whimsically added, ‘What we’re suggesting is that something that doesn’t really interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed.’”
Could it possibly be true? I consulted with Gregory Sullivan, professor and associate chair of physics at the University of Maryland who formerly did some of his neutrino research at the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan, and with physicist Eric Adelberger of the University of Washington.